From an interview with Vladimir Nabokov conducted by Alberto Ongaro in 1966 for L’Europeo, included in Think, Write, Speak: Uncollected Essays, Reviews, Interviews, and Letters to the Editor, a book of Nabokov’s work, which will be published this month by Knopf.
alberto ongaro: Love has changed, according to sociologists, novels, and films: casual sex, infidelity, no sense of sexual jealousy. Sex has been emptied of feelings.
vladimir nabokov: I agree with you that literature and cinema deal with the problem of sex more frequently than they once did. In fact, you could say they deal with little else. And that in my opinion is the only perceptible change in this field. There is more openness, less shame, less shyness in discussing sexual facts. Even if the past has a rich erotic literature, contemporary literature is less prudish than in the past, with the exception of Russia, which has never been freed from prudery. On the contrary. But for other Western literatures the fact is undeniable. The times seem to have changed. In Balzac, for example, there aren’t explicit references to characters’ erotic relationships, even if they were taken for granted. Now it comes up everywhere. Authors describe the physiological side of love in detail. But this is a fact about the history of literature and cinema rather than of mores. In short, it seems to me that sexual customs in civilized countries are always the same and that only the way of showing them has changed.